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March 27, 2023

Joel Embiid: 'I'll be the bad guy, I like being the a--hole'

In a new interview with The Athletic, Embiid speaks on the changing criteria of the MVP award as he battles with Nikola Jokić yet again for it.

The Sixers have a nationally televised matchup with the Nuggets in Denver on Monday night. While both teams will be jockeying for playoff positioning, the game will be defined by the Joel Embiid (who currently has a "questionable" injury designation) vs. Nikola Jokić matchup, as the league's top-two MVP candidates go at it. Jokić, of course, has won the award in back-to-back years with Embiid finishing as runner-up both times. Will the tide finally turn Embiid's way?

The Athletic's Shams Charania dropped an interview with Embiid on Monday morning discussing the MVP debate, filled with some headline-grabbing quotes from the Sixers' superstar center. The interview took on a question-and-answer format. Here's an excerpt:

Charania: Giannis Antetokounmpo recently told The Athletic he believes the MVP criteria is ever-changing year to year. Do you agree?

Embiid: The criteria does change. If we want to talk about the last three years since I’ve been in the running for it, the first year it was that I didn’t play enough games. Last year, I came back, I played enough games, I led the league in scoring, and obviously, Nikola deserved it and he won it. But then again, he won as a sixth seed in the West. And then this year, I’m leading the league in scoring, I’m doing all of these things defensively … I should be making an All-Defensive team too. I don’t care, but every year it’s something. And when you add analytics into it, which don’t make sense. You can talk about analytics all you want. When you got some guys in the league, the eye test tells you that they’re not good defensively, but analytics tell you they’re the best defenders. That’s when analytics don’t make sense at all. I don’t make the rules, I don’t choose whatever criteria that they use, so it’s really about whatever people’s preferences are.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is, when I leave the game of basketball, I want to make sure that people looked at me as … it’s hard to be the greatest ever because you’ve got to win a bunch of championships and not everyone is lucky to do it because only one team can win and you have to have the right pieces around you … but when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

That’s why I play the game — for the respect. I put in too much work. If you look at the beginning of my career and where I have been taking my game, offensively I’ve become like a guard. [The Athletic/$]

Both Antetokounmpo and Embiid are right that the MVP criteria changes every year. While that may be frustrating for the players actually competing for the NBA's most revered regular season award, I find that's what makes it such a fun discussion for media and fans alike. Is it the player with the best stats? Is it the best player on the team with the best record? Is it the guy who uplifts a poor supporting cast to greater heights? Is it someone considered to be the top player in the entire sport regardless of the intricacies of a specific season? Well, it's a little bit of everything and the weight each factor given differs by every person. If the MVP award discussion was clear-cut, that'd sapped juice out of March and April basketball. 

It may seem short-sighted to think that Monday's Sixers-Nuggets game could decide the MVP debate if both players are in action, but with the whole NBA community watching, Embiid will have his best chance yet to prove his candidacy. 

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